Informanet

2/10/14

I may never get to stand on the Olympic podium

Training for the Winter Olympics in Utah, I was at the top of competitive snowboarding when I suffered a life-threatening traumatic brain injury that I'm still recovering from to this day. And while I can never snowboard competitively again, I hope to be a voice for the millions of Americans who grapple with diseases of the brain.

Until my injury, I didn't spend too much time thinking about my brain, but in the last few years, I've learned a lot about the engine that drives our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

I've learned that in my battle to recover from this devastating injury, I am not alone. Researchers estimate that around 100 million Americans suffer from brain disorders at some point in their lives. From Alzheimer's to autism and ALS all the way to traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic depression, diseases of the brain are not only catastrophic, they are common.

That's why the President's BRAIN Initiative -- an all-hands-on-deck effort to understand the human brain and enable the tools, techniques, and technologies that can improve scientists' ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent neurological diseases -- is personal for me.

Learn more about the initiative here -- and if you or someone you know stands to benefit from this sort of research, tell that story here.

Since my injury, I've learned that the human brain remains one of the greatest mysteries in science. Decades of neuroscience have revealed much about how the brain works, but the great majority of the brain's activity, involving about 100 trillion neural connections, remains uncharted.

That's changing quickly. Since the President announced the BRAIN Initiative last year, the research community, federal agencies, foundations, patient advocacy groups, private research institutes, companies, scientific societies, and individual scientists have committed more than $300 million to this bold effort to capture a dynamic image of the human brain, similar to the one that mapped the human genome.

The goals of the BRAIN Initiative are ambitious, but they're achievable.

Imagine if no family had to grapple with the helplessness and heartache of a loved one with Parkinson's, or TBI, or PTSD. Imagine if Alzheimer's, or ALS, or chronic depression were eradicated in our lifetime. Imagine if we played a role in those breakthroughs.

That's why I've worked so hard on connecting, educating, and empowering around brain health, and to tell the story about how much the brain can improve, adapt, heal, and grow. And that's why I'm so excited to lend my voice to these efforts to help catalyze the next generation of treatments for brain diseases. Though my voice may be more public than most, I know that so many Americans have loved ones that have battled brain disorders just as I have.

If you want to make your voice heard, share your story at WhiteHouse.gov/BRAIN.

I may never get to stand on the Olympic podium, but I'm thrilled to stand with the scientists and students, researchers and citizens on the edge of the next great frontier -- unlocking and understanding the three pounds of matter that sit between our ears.

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